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‘Sicario’ sequel just reheated cliches of vendettas

July 7, 2018

The original film "Sicario" was a sneaky little thriller with a mean streak that followed a somewhat-legal federal task force whose purpose was to take down Mexican drug cartels by any means necessary. Behind the action was director Denis Villeneuve (who went on to direct the acclaimed "The Arrival" the following year in 2016 and the "Blade Runner" sequel last year). He was helped by a stirring, memorable score from Johann Johannsson, and a seasoned pro in Roger Deakins as cinematographer. And while the film featured fine performances from Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, it was never as sterling as its pedigreed cast and crew.

It was not a box-office smash, and its story wrapped nicely by the end. So when a sequel was announced, I was curious as to why we needed to see more with "Sicario: Day of the Soldado." The only returning players this go-round are Brolin and Del Toro, as well as the first film's screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan. And whatever slight charms the original had held, this grisly, endlessly depressing sequel makes it a goal to quash them and allow as little light as possible.

The patrol has moved from drugs to human trafficking, including allowing terrorists from other countries who wish to do nothing but harm to the U.S. Brolin's CIA operative Matt Graver is back in command, enforcing his own brand of renegade justice behind the scenes. He is assisted by Del Toro's Alejandro, who is still exacting revenge for his slain family. In this go-round, Graver has an idea to head into Mexico and kidnap the daughter of one cartel and blame it on another, in hopes of igniting a war between the two rival gangs. What could go wrong?

The topic of immigration and the current handling of the situation is obviously saturing the news cycle, and this might seem like a rather poorly timed attempt to capitalize on the heartless separation of families taking place in real life. And while it may be a starting point for "Day of the Soldado," that is most certainly not where it ultimately steers toward. And while that is a positive, the film remains relentlessly grim and void of the humanity that helped elevate the first film (much due to the presence of Blunt's character, who is not even acknowledged here).

Instead, we are given reheated cliches of vendettas, operating outside the lines and other tactics that feel like "24's" leftovers with an extra side serving of blood. There is a side story of a Mexican-American boy (played by Elijah Rodriguez) who slowly gets sucked into the world of trafficking in return for money and power, and it is a far more interesting tale than any of the growling, tough-guy grunts written for Brolin and Del Toro. But it is quickly swept aside to make room for more carnage.

That's a missed opportunity for a chance to sprinkle a dusting of humanity in this film, but instead, it essentially unspools like a two-hour video game where we have no vested interest in whom the bullets may hit.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.